In its 200-page IPO filing, Fitbit reported that they have sold 20.8 million devices, with 3.9 million of them selling in the first three months of 2015 alone. The consumer appetite for Fitbit (along with other technologies and apps that can record our heart rate, count calories expended and steps taken) is accelerating rapidly. These technologies aren’t just helpful tools for those who want to slim down or tone up, they actually represent the potential to transform our approach to personal and public health.
Turning Data into Knowledge
The immediate benefit of self-tracking data is that it can provide a better measure of everyday behavior and lifestyle and presents a more complete picture of an individual’s health than traditional clinical data collection. But that’s only the beginning. Healthcare information has traditionally existed as islands of information. Finding ways to integrate, aggregate, and analyze disparate data can be expensive and challenging, but is necessary if we are going to move healthcare toward cost-effective, evidence-based treatments.
Eric Topol MD, chief academic officer of Scripps Health and professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Institute, told the Wall Street Journal he expects that within 20 years, “Hospitals, except for certain key functions like intensive-care units and operating rooms, will be completely transformed to data-surveillance centers. People will look back and laugh about the old physical office visit and the iconic ‘stethoscope’ along with the way so much of health care was rendered in the pre-digital era.”
Removing the Guesswork from Decision Making
In the same way that access to huge amounts of data is poised to transform our approach to healthcare, the availability of massive quantities of data and the tools to analyze it is fundamentally altering the practice of PR. Modern PR professionals can monitor their “vital statistics” with unprecedented accuracy and speed. Users of fitness trackers can gain insight into how changes in behavior impact their overall health. So to, PR pros can get visibility into the impact of a particular campaign, earned media mention or influencer engagement.
Beyond measuring the health of your own brand’s PR, this new era of big data makes it possible to sense emerging industry trends, identify important influencers and publications, and monitor the movement of your target customer segments across the web. “Data-surveillance” adds a whole new dimension to the practice of PR.
Fitness trackers and the data they collect may be the key to better healthcare outcomes for individual users and society as a whole. Likewise, data-based PR strategies hold the potential for more efficient and effective brand amplification and a healthier PR program.